About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Journey to 60 Miles

Here is a movie that puts together the 3 Day experience for the Pink & Plaid Warriors.  Enjoy!

Wrapping up the year

I know it sounds cliche, but 2011 flew by.

February 2011
But in some ways, the early parts of it seem like a distant dream. I didn't finish with radiation until February 17th.  The first week of 2011 found me driving to Escondido each day to get zapped with radiation. Was that really me?   I didn't have much hair, but it was starting to grow back in.

I found a new normal in 2011.  Another cliche, I know.  Of course, there will always be concern about a recurrence. But for the most part, I managed to fall into a routine of shuttling kids around to school and activities, making exercise a priority, church, and continuing my family's menu of organic cooking.

Last year at this time, I resolved to lose the last 10 pounds. Well, that didn't happen. But it will happen this year. Maybe even 15. I have been on Tamoxifen for the past year, and that has caused weight gain in some women. At least I've maintained my weight since then. But I'm not going to use the medication as an excuse. Although I've been working out pretty strenuously 6 days a week, I tend to snack in the afternoons and overdo it a bit at dinner. So I'm buckling down and starting tomorrow will be back to the formula that worked for me to lose 50 pounds in 2009-10:  counting calories. I'm going to cut out all alcohol as well.  I've enjoyed the holiday fare, but its time to get down to business.  If I just control what I put in my mouth, with my exercise regimen, the excess should melt away. Right?? Right!

Another change I'm making that will help me in this area is with a personal trainer. For my birthday last October, Mom and dad got me an introductory 3 sessions with a trainer at my gym. Because the gym kind of spoiled the surprise, they gave me an additional 2 sessions. I enjoyed it so much that I went ahead and bought myself 10  more sessions, (Merry Christmas to me!)  Not knowing this, Eric bought me 3 more!  So I have 13 more sessions and will start seeing my trainer every Thursday.  She knows my fitness goals and I'll have another person to be accountable to.

2012 is going to be the year of the half marathon. I'm going to do my first one at Disneyland next month. Training for that has had me running 4 days a week for about 20-25 miles a week. I would like to do a total of three half marathons in 2012, but I need to get them done before August so I can slow it down to a walk to train for the 3 Day in November.  Yes, I signed up for the 3 Day again. While I did not enjoy the training until we got up into walking 10+ miles at a time, the event itself was an amazing and uplifting experience. I've met several other survivors in the process and the 3 Day community is incredible. Besides, if I'm going to be in the commercials urging everyone to "join us," I had better be there, hadn't I?

I'm looking forward to being more disciplined in my devotional life as well.  Our women's bible study for the Spring is going to start in early January. We are going to be studying the book of Hebrews. I've been asked to do a little bit of teaching and hitting the main points of the weekly lessons. I'm a little nervous about it, since I've never done anything like this. It is definitely going to be a motivator for me to find the time daily to study the Bible and spend some quiet time at the feet of the Lord so I can hear what He has to say.

I've also decided to write a book. I gave a talk to the women at our church last October about my journey with breast cancer. In preparing for it, I had 32 pages of outlined notes! I would like to make part of it into a book that can help other people who are facing similar circumstances. If nothing else, it will be cathartic for me!  Its not going to be a rehash of this blog, though. Stay tuned and find out.

2011 was a much better year for me than 2010, to be sure. I'm looking forward to 2012 being even better. Thank you for caring enough to read my blog and follow along with me. I appreciate you all and wish you a very Happy and Healthy new year!
My boys and I on Christmas Eve

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Walker Stalkers

One thing that really blew me away during the 3 Day was the dedication and energy of the "walker stalkers."  These were people who basically spent the entire weekend along the course, cheering us on. We would see them several times a day. They would set up "shop" in one place and do their schtick, then move a few miles down the route and do it all over again.

Their themes varied, from a guy with a camera (whom we saw at least 8 times on day 1), to outrageous men with watermelons in pink bras and wigs dancing to loud music they brought in 80's style boom boxes. Some were a little embarrassing, even. It was nuts!  Dogs were spray painted pink, or dressed in pink tutus. It was a riot.  Many would offer little treats by the side of the road: a sticker; kleenex; or piece of candy.  It was touching to see how much support was out there. As the miles wore on, having that cheering and encouragement was very uplifting.

The stalkers were very energized and that energy would spill over onto the walkers. It would be very hard, I think, to keep that level of energy up all day.  But they did it.

I couldn't help but wonder WHY these people would be doing this. I had plenty of time to contemplate and imagine stories for particular people.  Perhaps a wife was lost to breast cancer?  Or maybe a mother, daughter, sister.  I guess their reasons for doing what they were doing were as varied and similar as the reasons each walker had.

Anyway, the walker stalkers definitely added flavor and joy to the event. I'm thankful that they took the time to support us.  This video will give you a taste of what it was like:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In training

One of the things that helped me journey this cancer trip has been exercise.  During treatment, my goal was to keep exercising as much as I could-at least 5 days a week.  Check. That helped me so much get through the process.  The next goal was a couple of little races in the year. I realized this morning that in 2011, I ran three 5ks and one 10k.  Not bad for an ex-chubby girl who hated running since Alvarado middle school!

Of course, the 3 Day walk was a huge challenge in and of itself. Walking 60 miles in 3 days was no joke. Check.

My next physical goal is my first half-marathon next month.  The Disney Tinkerbell 1/2 marathon in Anaheim, California.  About a week an a half after the 3 Day ended, I started training in earnest for it.
I've got a great app from Runner's World, called "Smart Coach." You put in your goal, a recent race time, how many miles you want to do total each week and out pops a training program. It's great for a newbie like me who has no clue about how to actually train for running.

Smart Coach has me doing between 20-25 miles a week. One long run day (I'm up to 9 miles), two easier days (4 and 5 miles) and one speed work day. That entails either long repeats/intervals, or a tempo run where I run at a faster pace for 3-4 miles.  I do those on the treadmill so I can control the speed.

Today I did my second 9 miler. I did it. It wasn't too bad, except for a hill between miles 6 and 7 that I had to slow down to a walk for .10 of a mile. (I made up for it by running 9.1 before I stopped!)  I've also started running without being plugged into music, at least when I'm on the street.  I thought that would be much harder, but it wasn't. Granted, my pace isn't breaking any speed records. But I'm running the whole thing. That is my goal for this first 1/2 marathon-to run the whole 13.1, even if it's not fast. It will be a PR in any event, right?!  Today I averaged a little over 11 minute miles.

As I ran I thought about other physical goals for the year.  I've been working with a personal trainer for the last month at the gym. The sessions were a birthday gift from my parents. That has been a lot of fun, and something I'm going to continue.  She has  taken me into the "big boy" weight training room to show me how to do some new things. As I told my trainer, my goal right now is just to maintain my weight, and keep my running training on track. Come January, I'm going to buckle down and lose the last 10 pounds that I've been carrying around.  I feel good where I am, but with my short height, I could go 10-15 pounds lower from where I am. I'd like to see what that looks and feels like. But to try and start that  during the holidays is unrealistic. So 2012 it is.  With all the exercise, it should just take some discipline on the eating/drinking side for a month or two to get it off.

And what about events? I've already signed up for the 2012 3 Day walk in November, so that will take 13-16 weeks of training in the fall.  I decided this morning that, God willing, I'd like to do three 1/2 marathons this year. Tinkerbell in January is already set. I've found the San Diego Rock & Roll 1/2 marathon in early June. I need to find one more before mid-August in order to get 3 in before I have to slow it down to a walk.

I still can't believe this is me. As I was running today, I saw my shadow and couldn't believe it. I was over 5 miles into it, and felt great. It's amazing what you can do if you stick to it.  Persistence, perseverance and don't give up. Change will happen. Praise and thanksgiving to God for giving me the strength and ability to do it.

Now if God will keep the cancer from coming back, everything will be great.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Changing changes

Our hot water heater went out last weekend. Of course, Eric was out of town at the time and I had to deal with it over the weekend until he got back. A repair company came in and installed a temporary unit so we could dry out some drywall in the garage and decide what kind of heater we wanted to replace it with. The temporary heater didn't keep water hot for very long, so it wasn't until Tuesday we were able to get a new permanent heater.

What does this mundane household drama have to do with breast cancer?

Because of the water situation, I decided that after my workout at the gym on Monday morning, I would just take a towel and use the showers at the gym. No biggie, I've done that before-especially if I had been swimming laps.

I've never been self-conscious in a women's locker room about changing out in the open. Most people do, and we're all women. Whatever. Even being overweight, I would just do it quickly and be done with it. But after I got there, I realized that I didn't really feel comfortable being bare chested in front of strangers, even if it was for just a couple seconds.  I don't know if people take notice that I'm uber-flat. Especially at the gym, when I actually like being unhindered by floppy breasts while I work out. But my bare chest still looks like a freak show. I've got huge jagged horizontal scars running from side to side. I can only imagine the reaction it would raise. I don't blame anyone for it...it would be one of those instinctual things that you couldn't control. I mean, I still do it to myself at times when I see myself in the mirror! How could I blame others for having the same reaction?

I handled the situation by bringing my fresh T-shirt into the shower area with me and changing it in the shower.  (I chose one of my 3 Day team shirts that says "Survivor" on the sleeve just in case anyone had any questions.)  Then I wrapped a towel around myself and made it out to the locker area and got dressed the rest of the way. In the end, there weren't that many ladies there, and I probably could have just changed in the open. But still....there was that never before felt element of self-consciousness that I was able to avoid.

It wasn't an earth shattering event. But it did give me pause to reflect on how some things that I took for granted "BC" will forever be different, even the simple things like getting dressed in a locker room!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day Three

I slept pretty well again the second night in our pink tent. The only issue was waking up really early...like 4 a.m.!  I laid there for a few minutes and decided I needed to go visit the porta-potties.  By then, mom was awake too so we ventured out together. Breakfast wasn't being served until 5 a.m., so we crawled back into our sleeping bags. I had taken out my earplugs and they rolled into a dark corner somewhere. No big deal-I wasn't going to sleep anyway. The next several minutes made me so grateful that we had the earplugs at night! The sounds of snoring coming from 2 sides of us was pretty loud. Then we heard the soft sound of....a fart!  Mom and I looked at each other and just started cracking up! Ah, the sounds of humanity!

As soon as we could venture over to the dining tent, we went. It was a little misty, but we were able to get our food without getting wet. Boy, I'm, glad we got up when we did! Shortly after getting inside the tent and starting on our breakfast, it started raining!  But it didn't get spirits down.  In fact, in some ways, it bonded everyone together even more!  One guy stood up and led everyone in rounds of "Rain, rain go away, come again another day!"  We were ready to walk in the rain if need be, but I wasn't looking forward to striking our tent in a downpour.  

Fortunately, the rain stopped falling after about 20 minutes. Mom and I decided to go for it, so we went out and got our stuff together and rolled up our tent. We took our gear and tent over to the gear truck and were ready to get started. Carylee got there and off we went! 

We did about one mile before the rain started coming down again. So we whipped out our ponchos and put them on over our clothes and camelbaks.  It didn't rain very hard, just enough to make you want to cover up. We had all heard stories about 2010 when the rain was so hard that it fell sideways! This was nowhere near that bad.  By the time we reached the first pit stop at a little over 3 miles, the rain had stopped. I folded up my poncho and put it back in my case. It was green, after all, and clashed with all my pink! 

The first part of the day had us wind around Mission Bay. The crowds were out in even more numbers than the previous two days. It was overwhelming. At one place, there was a "gauntlet" of survivors that we walked through. It was amazing the love and support from total strangers.  There were lots of goodies offered along the way: mimosas, jell-o and tequila shots, candy, tissues, stickers, and more. 

As the course led us out of the Mission Bay area and into Old Town, I definitely saw signs of struggle among our ranks. There were a lot of limping people, but they pressed on. I felt pretty good, although I had developed a "hot spot" that I put a piece of moleskin over. There was a pit stop in Old Town, right at the bottom of the "big hill" of the day, Juan Street.  I sat down on a curb, and my body just didn't want to get up! Others were laying down in the parking lot we were in, stretching and resting. 

One poignant memory I have is when we were waiting to cross the street onto Juan Street. One of the volunteers who was there to help walkers cross safely saw a girl with a picture of someone on her shirt. It was obviously a memorial to someone for whom she was walking. The volunteer asked her who the picture was of. The girl replied that it was her grandmother, who had lost her battle to breast cancer. The volunteer was so sweet in the few seconds we had waiting for the light, asking her what her grandmas name was and commenting on how pretty she was.  As we crossed the street, I saw that the girl wearing the shirt was in tears at the concern shown by a total stranger for grandmother. 

Just seeing this made me feel so good about humanity. At least this little pink sliver of humanity that I was a part of. I realized that each and every person walking and putting their bodies through so much pain had a story. They had a loved one they had lost. Or maybe they had someone they knew who was a survivor, but had a tough time of it. (Who doesn't have a tough time with cancer treatment?)  We were all here, doing this thing together, caring for each other, with a common goal in mind. For the first time, the words they had me say in the commercials made total sense. "We are united."  Yes, we were.  (Look for the 2012 3-Day commercials to start airing in January.)

As we started up Juan Street, I ran into one of my "Hollywood" survivor friends, Marcy. We walked up Juan Street side by side. Mom was in front of us about 10 feet, head down, one foot in front of the other.  It was great. I was having a good time. In fact, I didn't want it to end! There was a rest stop at the top of the hill and I said as much. I think we were about 11 mile into the day at that point. I think the adrenaline was keeping me going. 

It got harder after that as we wound our way down through Hillcrest. But the crowds were there to cheer us on. Sometimes along the way, we would see walkers who had stopped to have a drink together and they would shout and wave at us. We planned on stopping as well, but wanted to wait until we were just a few blocks from the finish line.  Lunch was at Balboa Park, and we had 3.1 miles to go at that point. We didn't rest too long-we wanted to have enough time for our celebratory drink, get our victory shirts, and take our picture in front of the 60 mile sign. We had to be all done by 4 p.m. for closing ceremonies. 

The last few miles were hard. Physically, to be sure. But also emotionally. Perhaps it was being so worn down physically that made me more sensitive emotionally. I felt like every person out there was cheering for ME personally. I wore my "Survivor" tattoo with pride.  I was doing it!  I was a part of something huge, something that is going to make a difference.  At Balboa park, there were girl scouts handing out 1/2 boxes of Thin Mints, a group of Chinese dancers with drums and a Chinese dragon twisting by the sidewalk. It was incredible.  

Dad had been done for a few hours and had found a little establishment about a block off the course, the Knotty Barrel. We made our way in, and shared some wine in celebration. There were other walkers and crew in there as well. It was a party atmosphere, even though we were exhausted. It was a strange kind of exhaustion. I was too tired to really think, my body was tired, but not to the point of dropping. It was an emotional exhaustion as well. Those last couple miles were like an end to the cancer journey for me. Sure, I conquered the 60 miles, but I also conquered cancer and lived to do something this physically demanding. Take that, cancer! 

Dad walked with us the last few blocks into the finish line. I walked in front of mom and dad, and just let the tears flow down my cheeks as I walked by all of the people who lined the street clapping and cheering. When we got into the finish zone, there was a huge gauntlet of people who we walked through, high fiving us as we past. As I made my way down the line, I recognized them as fellow walkers. We did it! 

Mom, Dad, and I were pretty overwhelemed with emotion. We did a group hug. I remember telling them that I couldn't have done it without them, and I wasn't just talking about the 3 Day.  It was every single day since June 10, 2010. I saw memories like photographs in my mind.  Among them: 
  • Fathers Day 2010 when we were waiting to find out how far advanced my cancer was, I remember telling my Dad I loved him. We both fought back tears and just acknowledged that we had to keep our eyes on the Lord, regardless of how hard this storm was hitting us. 
  • July 22, 2010-the day of my bilateral mastectomy. Mom and Dad were there all day, waiting. They stayed and took care of me post-op when I went through this intense hot flash. Dad fanned me with a paper and mom wiped my sweaty face with a damp cloth. 
  • The months after surgery, mom came over to my house every single day to take care of me and help with the kids.  She was there when I saw my new body for the first time. She was there when I suffered from a side effect of the pain meds...really bad constipation. Talk about being there for the nitty gritty! What we went through that day was an ordeal, and only she and I know the full extent of it. :-) 
  • The first weekend of December, 2011 when I was suffering from the allergic reaction to Cipro, the worst hives of my life that ended up triggering my lymphedema. Dad stayed with the kids while mom and I went to urgent care. Mom cried with me publicly when they tried to send me away to the hospital emergency room to a 3 hour germ infested wait just a week out of my 6th round of chemotherapy. Our tears at least got the attention of the receptionist, who put us in touch with an advice nurse via telephone that was helpful. Mom stayed at our house that night in case my allergy took a turn for the worse.
  • Mom met me every day of radiation and sat out in the car with Jean-Marc while I went in for treatment.
Just the fact that they both jumped into the 3 Day with me was awesome, sacrificing their time and physical comfort to take this journey with me.  I am so blessed by them both. 

60 miles, in the bag!
Nancy, Me, and Sharon
We got our victory shirts. Walkers (Mom) got white. Crew (Dad) got grey. Survivors (me) got pink.  We stood in line to get our victory picture. 60 miles, we did it!

After our picture, they started trying to get people organized for the closing ceremonies. Survivors were to gather on a grassy hill at Petco park, so I made my way over there. I was so happy to run into 2 of my other "Hollywood" friends, Nancy and Sharon. I hadn't seen Nancy all weekend!  We compared notes about the walk and our teams. As we started walking, Nancy linked her arm in mine, and I linked my other arm into Sharon's.  We made our way through the cheering street towards the closing ceremonies together.  Along the way, I saw Eric and the kids. That was neat. Jean-Marc ran out to join me, but I had to tell him I'd see him soon. By now, the rain had started again. But it didn't matter. Let the rain come, so what. 

As we walked in, I saw the shoe salute. All of the walkers had taken off a shoe and saluted us as we walked in. That made me start crying again. So much love and support, it was amazing. 

Honestly, I don't remember much about the closing ceremonies. We were right by a circular stage, and when it was over, they started playing some song. (Was it "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang?) Nancy grabbed me and we rushed up onto the circular stage to dance in the face of breast cancer, with the rain sprinkling down on us. It was great.  We were all hugging up there, dancing, celebrating being alive, all bonded together by a common experience. It didn't matter that we hadn't met each other yet-if you were in pink, you were a sister and this was one big family reunion!  

All too soon, it was over. I somehow managed to find the parking structure where Eric had parked.  We all piled into my Honda Odyssey and went to meet my brother, sister in law and nephew for dinner.  It was surreal for it to all be over. Dinner was fantastic, I ate every single morsel of taco and rice on my plate. I was ravenous!  

As we drove home up Interstate 5, we passed by Mission Bay, La Jolla, and then back to Del Mar, where Dad's car had been parked all weekend.  My goodness that was a long way!  And we walked it! 

The 3 Day was an amazing, triumphant experience. When I started training, I felt like I would just do it this year. You know, to cross it off my "to do in life" list. But the event itself made every mile of the 500 training miles I did worth it. 

So much so that I signed up to do it in 2012!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Day Two

Our home away from home
Mom and I slept pretty well in our pink tent. It took me by suprise, actually.  Usually when I'm in a new environment, the first night is not very restful, especially when I'm camping. I was concerned that the little camp pillow I borrowed from Olivier wouldn't be comfortable. On top of that, we were literally right next to our neighbors. Mom had brought some earplugs and they did the trick!  We woke up around 5 a.m., met dad for breakfast and then were ready to get going!

Having been at the back of the pack the day before, we wanted to get an early start and be in the front. Our third teammate didn't camp with us, so had to arrange to meet. The route opened between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Carylee got there before 7, but needed to stop at the medical tent to get her ankle wrapped.   By the time we got onto the route, it was 7:15 a.m.  Right smack dab in the middle. That was fine with me. At least we weren't in the back.

We had heard rumors that Day Two was the hardest. The theory is that on Day One, you are pumped with adrenaline. On Day Three, you are almost done. But on Day Two, you just have to walk. And walk. And walk.  The mileage on this day was actually a little less than the day before.

The route that morning led us though parts of Mission Bay, Ocean Beach, and Point Loma. It was a really fun route. It took us through areas that I was unfamiliar with. I particularly enjoyed Point Loma and some of the custom homes that overlook the Pacific Ocean.

Like the previous day, we were met with hundreds of supporters along the route. Many were in costume, but others were not.  Even some trainers from Sea World were out in their wetsuits to take pictures with walkers and show their support!

On the route, there are rest stops every 3-4 miles.  They all have porta potties and water/sports drink. Actual "pit stops" have these amenities as well as a medical tent and snacks.  In between these stops, we increasingly ran into tables set up by everyday people who would offer us all kinds of things, from stickers, kleenex, candy, to mimosas (or "mamosas" as they were called).  As the day wore on and we walked through Mission Beach, we ran into tequila shots and Jell-O shooters! 

One of the bright spots of the day was right before lunch when some girls from Isabelle's girl scout troop had a cheering spot. We had just crossed over a bridge from Mission Beach to Mission Bay and there they were!  I had purchased some pink cammo rubber bracelets from a lady who had set up a stand in Point Loma, so I gave each girl one. I gave her leader, Nicole, a "survivor" tattoo like the one I had put on that morning.  Nicole was the first woman in my circle of friends to be diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. After she fought it, then I was diagnosed.  We sat down on a little wall and the girls gave us shoulder massages! We were definitely envied by other walkers as they went by us. Many even took our pictures! 

At the end of the afternoon, we stopped at the last pit stop. We were tired, but we also had gotten separated from Carylee, who had stopped to check something out along the Boardwalk in Mission Beach. (There was a LOT going on there!)  After we started on the last mile and a half, I saw a familiar face among the crowd of people cheering us on. A friend of mine, Donna, was there with her daughter's brownie troop. I got a burst of energy and ran to give her a big hug. It was so neat to see a familiar face! It really meant a lot that they came down to cheer us on. As Donna and I were talking, I saw another familiar face sitting about 10 feet away.  I had to do a double take....it was my dad! He had walked out to meet us and walk us in. I didn't recognize him at first because he had a hat on!  It was nice to finish the day up with the fourth member of our team!

At dinner, I was happy to run into a survivor friend, Marcy, whom I had met doing the 2012 3-Day commercial shoot.  I still had to find Nancy. Other than her, I had seen or talked to everyone that I met that exciting day.

We took a seat next to the charging stations. I was hoping to be able to plug in my iPhone as well as my Garmin GPS watch. Unlike the night before, every single outlet was taken. But unlike the other walkers, I had an in with the crew! Dad took my devices and charged them off the battery of the gear truck he was in.

We watched a little bit of the Saturday night show. I learned that the national spokeswoman for the 3 Day, Dr. Sheri Phillips, not only is a breast cancer survivor, but she lives with lymphedema like I do. They introduced a man who was walking ALL 14 of the 3-Day events this season. San Diego was his last. I honestly don't know how you can get your body to withstand this 14 times. But he did it. Not only did he walk all 14, but raised the minimum amount of $2,300 14 times. Wow.  They also introduced us to a group of teenagers who had been around helping, the Youth Corps. They were volunteers, but had to raise $500 to be able to work! I was blown away. Each kid introduced themselves and told us why they were working. When one girl introduced herself, she said that her mother had been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. I swear, I heard everyone draw a sharp breath inward all at the same time. Her mom was there, walking with us.

We didn't have it in us to stay up for the dance party. We went to the shower trucks, took care of business, and went to bed. 40 miles down, 20 to go.